The man who signalled the last train from Swanage to Corfe Castle and Wareham on New Year’s Day 1972 has returned to the Swanage Railway to mark the 40th anniversary of the sad day.
Amidst high winds and heavy rain retired signalman, Bob Richards joined other passengers from the 1970s for a cheerful steam trip on what is now a flourishing heritage railway.
Bob, from Corfe Castle, who went on to work for Network Rail, joined Peter Sills and his father Frederick Sills from Wareham as well as Malcolm Munro from Wool who were passengers on that last fateful day.
Bryan Trent, from Parkstone in Poole also came along with his 1972 British Rail train ticket to watch the first steam train of the day carry a special commemorative headboard designed and produced by Malcolm Munro.
Bob was also reunited with two pieces of equipment. The first piece of signalling equipment from 1972 was a single line staff, an inscribed section of steel tube with a metal ring in the end, used to allow a train on the line between Swanage and Corfe Castle. The single line staff was used from the summer of 1967 when the signalling at Swanage station was taken out of use and dismantled.
The second piece of signalling equipment from 1972 was an inscribed Tyer’s electric key token made of steel which was the authority for a train to run on the single line between Corfe Castle and Worgret Junction near Wareham.
Peter Sills, also the volunteer chairman of the Swanage Railway Company, brought along a photograph of Bob using the same staff and key token to signal a British Rail train at Corfe Castle in late December, 1971.
A delighted Bob said, ‘It was great to hold the staff and key token again after 40 years. The British Rail signalling system at Corfe Castle back in 1972 was a traditional Edwardian manual system but it worked very well.’
Peter added, ‘I remember Bob because I rode on the trains between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage as a child and so I knew the staff very well. The people who operated the branch line were like a large family and it was very sad indeed when the railway closed after a period of decline.’
The Swanage Railway service on New Year’s Day, 2012, was hauled by ex-British Railways Standard Class 4 Tank steam locomotive No. 80104 built at Brighton in 1955 and restored from a scrapyard condition by Southern Locomotives Limited during the 1990s. The railway forms a central attraction on the isle of Purbeck – Dorset’s hidden gem.